Before Keller purchased the French Laundry in 1994 from the former Mayor of Yountville Don and his wife Sally Schmitt, the one street town of Yountville, CA wasn’t as big of a tourist attraction. As his turn of the century stone restaurant, surrounded by lush gardens became a foodies’ culinary mecca, Keller purchased three acres of land across the street from his award-winning Michelin star restaurant.
From 1880 to the late 1920’s this two-story building was a saloon, brothel and last a French steam laundry, thus the Schmitt’s decided to name their restaurant French Laundry.
Thomas Keller’s Manager of Culinary Gardens and Landscape is the handsome Aaron Keefer. His French intensive two acre garden grows Tuscan broccoli, beets, Red Russian garlic, cabbage, English Peas, Sacramento Delta asparagus, Red Ace beets, golden beets and Chorga beets, Flashy Trout Black Lettuce, leeks, Tokyo turnips and a variety of lettuce during the winter months. All are pesticide free.
Keefer was a chef before he worked with Keller four years ago. His grandfather was a conventional farmer as he grew up in upstate New York. Keefer started cooking when he was 17 years old. Eventually he came out to California and worked with Bottega’s Michael Chiarello and at French Laundry.
Today he is the liaison between the chefs in the French Laundry, Bouchon and Ad Hoc kitchens and the garden. All are owned by Thomas Keller.
Keefer gives the chef an availability list, gets it back from them after they determine the menu for the next day, and then harvests all of the organic produce. “I give them vegetables, and the chefs turn them into works of art,” said Keefer.
The Chef du Cuisine at the French Laundry David Breeden comes out into the garden once a week for inspiration for his menu. He is obsessive about culinary details to make sure each guest has an emotional dining experience.
What is planted today is available to harvest in four months or later and it all starts in the engine of the garden – the Hoop House. It’s not a Green House; it’s where all the seeds grow into seedlings. “We grow 52 varieties of tomatoes – red, yellow, orange, white, stripe and blue tomatoes,” said Keefer. “During peek season we harvest 1000 pounds of tomatoes.”
Nearby the Hoop is the chicken coop with healthy looking chicken pecking at micro greens. The chicken manure is used for fertilizer and their eggs are collected to be used in Keller’s restaurants.
There is no fence around the garden. Locals and visitors have such respect for Thomas Keller and his gardeners, that they walk around the garden to admire its beauty that enhances the small town of Yountville in Napa Valley.
Dining at French Laundry begins with two unique nine-course dining menus – a chef tasting menu and a tasting of garden vegetables. Reservations for dinner are taken two months in advance. Dinner is served seven days a week from 5:30 to 9:15 p.m. Lunch is served on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
To make a reservation, go to the OpenTable French Laundry page or call (707)944-2380.